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3 Tips to Avoid a Boring, Self-Absorbed Cover Letter

Focus on Self

When you meet someone new, it's not always easy to strike up a conversation, especially if you focus only on yourself. Self-absorption is a big turn-off. The trick is to find something of mutual interest and see how far it takes you. If your knowledge matches their interests, and vice versa, it could be the start of a great friendship.

The same theory applies to writing your cover letter, which acts as a conversation starter for the really deep topic that follows: your resume.

Karen Burns — aka Working Girl — drove this point home last month in an article, "A Good Cover Letter Starts with You." It reminded me of a night waaaaayyy back in my single days when I was talking — sort of — with a young woman in a bar. The problem was I couldn't get her to stop talking about what was apparently her favorite subject: herself.  About 30 mind-numbing minutes later, she handed me her phone number, which I tossed in a trash can on my way home.

The point? When you write a cover letter, take the focus off yourself and place it on the person and company you're writing to.

You should have already taken a good, close look at the job description, highlighted keywords and phrases, and mirrored them in your resume. Use those to start building your case in your cover letter for how you can help them. Then:

1) Do your homework. Scour the company's web site and other resources for information and news to gather a complete picture of what they do, what their markets are, how the job you're applying for fits in, and how your background can help contribute to their success. Then, work that knowledge into your cover letter.

Bad Example: 
 I have 10 years of experience in domestic and foreign procurement in the consumer products sector.

Good Example:
My 10 years of procurement experience in the consumer products sector, especially in sourcing goods from foreign counties, can be of immense help with your expansion into Asian markets.

2) Keep "I" and "my" under control. Yes, you'll need to say "I" or "my" to describe your skills and how they fit with the company and the position; emphasize your interest in the job; and sometimes address salary expectations. But there are some instances where you can go without it. For instance, a statement like "I believe my skills match the job's requirements" is more powerful without the "I believe." Ever have an English teacher take off points if you used "I believe" or "In my opinion" in an assignment? It's no secret that what you write is coming from you, so these phrases are unnecessary.

3) Let someone else speak for you with a written recommendation. Consider including an endorsement from an ex-boss or colleague. Social networking sites like LinkedIn are making written recommendations the new references. Another option is to quote remarks from a past performance review.

An example:
In 2007, our CEO John Smith said my "dedication, attention to detail, and strong communications skills with our Asian suppliers were instrumental in helping us gain 15% in market share in that region."

Your cover letter serves as the opening act for your resume. In today's economy, a well-written cover letter targeting the employer's specific needs can help vault you above a larger-than-normal field of competitors. To grab the hiring manager's attention, keep your cover letter focused on the company.

Which career document do you find easier to prepare: your resume or a cover letter?

RELATED LINKS

Cover Letter Basics: 5 Steps to a Top-Notch Letter
7 Experts Offer Their No. 1 Cover Letter Tip
Straight Talk about Writing Cover Letters 

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